If you’ve ever seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in concert, you’ve encountered the gleefully deranged costume work of DIY designer Christian Joy – and you probably haven’t forgotten it. Known best as the woman behind Karen O’s confoundingly awesome costumes, Joy is a truly original treasure of New York fashion, and her uninhibited designs have earned her a decade-long cult popularity among musicians and style explorers alike. The more approachable end of her looks encompass deconstructed tutus, decorative capes and busy one-pieces, while the more avant-leaning styles transcend costume altogether and border on wearable art installations. While her work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs siren put her on the map – a 2002 renegade fashion show called “Brat Style” captured their chemistry best – Joy has successfully gone on to branch out her design ideas into art and theatre (including Karen O’s “psycho-opera” Stop the Virgens) while dreaming up new ways to bring her batty concepts into manageable doses for the average consumer.
A new limited-run collaboration with Vans marks a brilliant step in that direction. For the brand’s Classics 25th Anniversary, Joy was invited to customize a music-themed series of sneakers, totes and t-shirts in her trademark scattershot, maximalist style – a smart and relatively low-risk way for curious fans to snag a piece of Joy’s sui generis. Joy spoke with Rolling Stone recently about the collaboration, her ongoing creative bond with Karen O and what’s coming next.
How did the Vans collaboration happen? What made you want to do it?
I got an email from Ahn at Iamsound [Records] asking if I wanted to customize 80 pairs of Vans, as well as tees and tote bags, for an event at the House of Vans in Williamsburg for the Vans Classics 25th Anniversary. I customize all of my own accessories – and, of course, shoes – for all of the costumes [I make], so I thought it sounded fun. It was great because I got to meet so many new fans!
Where did the concepts for the shoe designs come from?
My favorite pair was a mix between rave and Fraggle Rock. I used a lot of stuff from the dollar store to decorate them, like pacifiers, baby safety pins and glowsticks, along with fake neon green fur and spray paint. I also tried to incorporate a New York City 1980s hip-hop vibe. One style had whistles, zig-zags and beads, and those were called the Dance Party shoes – based off a song by the New York City band Bubbles. Another style were painted with loads of eyes.
Do you see accessories as an accessible outlet to bring your unconventional twists to new audiences?
Definitely. I feel like it’s much easier to incorporate a wild accessory rather than an entire outfit. I’m especially fond of unique sock and shoe combos.
Are you currently working on anything new with Karen O? Or another artist?
I am working with a new artist, but I’m not sure if I can let the cat out of the bag yet. I will say it will be happening in the next month or so!
What was the experience of designing costumes for Karen O’s rock opera Stop The Virgens like? What was most challenging compared to other projects you’ve worked on with Karen?
I loved designing for Stop the Virgens. It was interesting to get to create within an entire world and to work with K.K. Barrett and Karen to decide what they would each look like. It was really one of my first times discussing the costumes and creating mood boards. With Karen, we don’t often discuss much: usually just the basics, and then she really doesn’t see the costumes until the day of the show. Also, for the first time, I was designing for an entire cast and not just one person. It was a challenge, but definitely an exciting one!
Do you have any future plans for an accessory line or clothing line of your own?
Not so far. I’d like to do some collaborations, but I’m not crazy about creating my own line. I don’t have the patience and I never feel like I can express myself to the fullest. I’ve had a show up in Tokyo at the Diesel Gallery since May, and for the first time I created poster and textile wall prints. The show was a combination of Karen O’s costumes and those wall prints. The response was really positive so I hope to keep going down that road and to also of course keep doing costumes.
How have your design methods changed over the years?
Not really. I think now I’m just more confident.
Have you worked on any non-costume projects in art or film lately?
I’m actually on set right now doing costumes for a film about photographer Mick Rock. It’s being directed by my very good friend [and Karen O’s husband] Barney Clay. Also, as I mentioned before I have a show up of my work in Tokyo.
What music and/or musicians inspire you right now?
Hmmm, I’m feeling more inspired by dance lately. My friend Mari Lopez does a project called Accidental Movement, which is very inspiring. My husband, Jason Grisell, created the music for her new creation called Salon at BAX. It was very cinematic and eclectic mix of songs. His studio is connected to mine, so I heard the music a lot while I was working.
What projects should we be looking out from you next?
The show I created for the gallery in Tokyo will be traveling to NYC in November. It will go up at the Picture Farm space in Williamsburg.